How will the president repay pro-lifers?
Pro-lifers proved in January that they weren’t fair-weather friends of President Bush. Literally.
First came Inauguration Day, which followed a rare Washington, D.C., snowstorm. It was frigidly cold, but crowds of people waited in the outdoors icebox to see Bush take his oath of office.
There were no real applause lines in the speech — until the president made an obliquely pro-life reference.
“Americans, at our best, value the life we see in one another,” he said, “and must always remember that even the unwanted have worth.”
When they heard that, the audience burst into cheers and offered the loudest applause it could muster wearing gloves.
The following weekend brought an even bigger snowstorm — followed by buses of pro-lifers descending on the city for the annual March for Life. Marchers lined up along the snow-packed mall in wind-chill temperatures that were below zero and then headed out, carrying signs pleading that the lives of the innocent be spared.
We hope Bush noticed these folks from his inaugural podium, and we hope he looked out the windows of the White House a few days later when many of them returned. He could learn a lot from them.
We’d suggest three lessons:
Lesson 1: Pro-lifers can’t be won over by other issues.
The faithful in the cold on Inauguration Day taught a lesson with their silence as well as with their pro-life cheers.
When the president talked about his signature issues of spreading freedom abroad, his words were some of his most eloquent in memory. But they didn’t move the faithful who had waited hours to see him.
When he talked about the “opportunity society” he wants to build through government programs, tax incentives and federal reform, he set policy-watchers buzzing. But the audience didn’t seem to hear him.
It wasn’t until he talked about the lives of the unwanted that they came alive.
Pro-lifers nationwide will be watching the Bush presidency. For many of them, his success or failure will boil down almost entirely to one question: Whom will he put on the Supreme Court?
Lesson 2: Pro-lifers will drop you if you betray them.
Pro-lifers are patient if they sense you’re on their side. But they lose all their love for you once they’re convinced you’re not.
Pennsylvania should have taught the Republicans that lesson. It’s a state with a proud bipartisan pro-life history. It’s a state many considered poised to give Bush its electoral votes.
But there were few Pennsylvanians out in the cold on Inauguration Day.
Pennsylvania is a state where many Republican pro-lifers felt betrayed by the president’s decision to campaign for Sen. Arlen Specter against a pro-life challenger. Specter is the chairman of the Judiciary Committee who, years ago, kept Judge Robert Bork off the Supreme Court because Bork is pro-life. Days after the November election, Specter vowed to do the same to future nominees.
Many Pennsylvania Republicans refused to vote for Bush because of Specter. Pro-life Republicans nationwide who will be watching Bush and Specter will abandon the party in a heartbeat if the president and Senate fail to appoint pro-life judges.
Lesson 3: Pro-lifers will work tirelessly for you.
Compare Pennsylvania to Ohio. Nationwide, Catholics passed out voter guides by the tens of thousands, and evangelical Protestant get-out-the-vote efforts were credited with swinging the election.
In Ohio, many voters who were affected by job-loss in the manufacturing sector blamed Bush’s economic policies. Democratic challenger Sen. John Kerry and vice presidential candidate Sen. John Edwards visited the state several times to shore up support.
But pro-lifers were also very active in the state, educating voters about the pro-life stands of both tickets. As a result many longtime Democrats — some of whom were convinced their vote would be bad for them economically — voted for Bush. And as a result, Bush won the election.
In the snows of Washington, we are reminded again that pro-lifers believe in their cause enough to disregard personal comfort and even risk personal safety in order to stand up for life.
Republicans shouldn’t forget how important pro-lifers are — or how easily they could lose them.